Lifelong 64-year-old poker player Michael Muniz made an unusual trek to Las Vegas for the 2021 World Series of Poker, the first time he’d ever made it to the series. And he couldn’t be more ecstatic to live out a long-time dream.
The Queens, New York resident loves the game of poker and the WSOP so much that he spent over 60 hours traveling cross country just to play in The Reunion, a $500 buy-in no-limit hold’em tournament with a $5 million guarantee (and, yes, the guarantee was met).
Why didn’t he just travel the customary route, by air? As he explained in a dinner break interview at the Rio with PokerNews, “I don’t fly.” He has a fear of flying and said he didn’t mind spending more than two days on a train.
“I got really lucky, for about 20 hours or so, the seats next to me were empty so it was pretty comfortable,” Muniz said.
From Addiction to Success
Muniz’ road to the WSOP wasn’t all roses and rainbows. His life went downhill in the 1980s when he became addicted to heavy drugs. He went from working on Wall Street to homeless, sleeping on a train, and he lost everything.
In 1989, he was arrested for the first time and was at a low point in life. Although he isn’t proud of his past transgressions, he’s enthusiastic about being two days away from 32 years of sobriety.
“October 6, 1989, since then I haven’t touched any beer, no drugs, 32 years,” he proudly said.
Life came full circle for the poker fan after he stopped using drugs and drinking alcohol. He spent 24 years working for the same trains that he spent countless nights sleeping on due to being homeless. Less than two years ago, he retired a sober man, full of life, and ready to spend his golden years playing poker.
Muniz lost his wife in 2014 and when he speaks of her, his eyes light up. She wasn’t enthusiastic about poker like he is, but she never stood in his way of playing the game he loves.
Lifelong Poker Player
Muniz learned to play poker from his grandfather when he was a kid. As an adult, he’s had some success in low stakes tournaments, having cashed for over $38,000, including his biggest score ever, $12,316 for second place in a 2015 WSOP Circuit event in Massachusetts.
After spending over 60 hours traveling to Las Vegas from New York by Amtrak, he took a seat in Event #4: $500 The Reunion No-Limit Hold’em. On Day 1c of the $5 million guaranteed tournament, he was unable to spin up a stack and advance to Day 2. But he did return on Monday morning to enter Event #8: $600 No-Limit Hold’em Deepstack.
Back in New York, Muniz plays in a local poker game dubbed “Big Boys Poker Club.” He’s proudly sporting his club’s shirt at the World Series of Poker. The first-time WSOP participant also frequents nearby Borgata, an MGM Resorts-owned casino in Atlantic City. But he doesn’t play cash games very often.
“Recently, in June, I played cash,” Muniz said. “I’m the worst in the world at cash games. I play crazy in cash games. In a tournament, I’m more patient, I just wait, I could double up here, I could bluff here. There’s a lot more strategy than cash.”
He says his biggest problem with cash games is that he can just go to the ATM and lose more money, whereas in a tournament once he’s out, he’s out.
Win or lose, Muniz is still alive, he’s sober, he has a daughter and five grandchildren he loves, and he’s able to play his favorite hobby — poker. On top of that, he’s living out a dream, playing in the World Series of Poker. The only thing left for him to do on this trip, other than cash in an event or win a bracelet, is to meet his favorite poker players — Daniel Negreanu, Phil Hellmuth, and Phil Ivey. Perhaps, he’ll get that opportunity before he heads back to New York this week.